Travel Fraud: What You Need to Know
By Whitney Joy Smith
Some people spend months planning their dream vacation, carefully planning their activities to keep them busy and itemizing their schedules day by day to ensure all of their vacation dreams are fulfilled! A vacation is not something that everyone can come by easily. For the average person, a vacation is a luxury it takes time to save up for. Unfortunately, it is often the ones who don’t have a lot of money that tend to be defrauded much easier when it comes to travel scams.
Travel scammers make it their mission to rob you of your money and offer a false sense of comfort. They prey on those who might be looking for a deal on their dream vacation.
Travel fraud happens in many ways. They can be found selling business class packages for 50% off through seemingly reputable vendors and make you believe you are getting the deal of a lifetime. You may receive an unsolicited email or phone call offering you a great deal on travel, or you may wind up on a website that appears to be Expedia or Hotwire but is actually just a clever replica.
Even major travel agencies and airlines such as WestJet has fallen victim to fraudsters using their name to sell vacation packages in the past. This was done over the phone so unsuspecting purchasers think it’s reputable because it’s WestJet’s name, but in reality they have been scammed out of potentially thousands of dollars.
The worst part of travel scams is that often everything seems normal until you hand the money over. There are no tickets to be found, no hotel room booked, and often no trace of the fraudsters to hold them accountable. Scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated. Ironically, many scammers are reverting to older technology such as cold calling rather than conducting fraud online as people are becoming wise to the risks of booking travel over the internet.
How to detect a fraudulent transaction
After a transaction is complete you may get a bad feeling in your gut telling you that this didn’t seem to add up. Things may be confirmed for you when you don’t receive your itinerary or ticket via email as is the normal course of action. If you suspect you have been defrauded you can contact a private investigator to help you determine where your money went and if you have been scammed. They may even be able to help you get your money back if you’re lucky. You should also report any fraudulent activity to the police.
I had an elderly client who spent nearly $2,000 on tickets for her family to visit from overseas. She was never given tickets upon payment, so she called us right away. We took over responding for her on her behalf and placed trackers in the email so we would know when and where the emails were opened. We were able to identify the IP address and find further information on the scammer. I called the scammer on behalf of the client and warned that the police would be my next call if the money was not returned. In this instance we were able to recover the money for the client, but this is not a typical result. That’s why it’s so important to avoid falling for travel scams in the first place.
Tips to avoid potential scams
#1 Don’t make travel plans over the phone
If you receive a phone call with a too-good-to-be-true offer and all you have to do is provide your credit card, hang up the phone immediately. Even on the slight chance that it is a legitimate offer, there is far too much risk involved and there are many other avenues to obtain a vacation.
#2 Only shop with reputable agencies
Spend the time and go to a travel agency that is well known and has a good reputation. Do some research on your own and read reviews to determine if it has a history of fraudulent behaviour or anything that seems fishy in their past. A little due diligence on your end could save your hard-earned money from being scammed away from you. If you are planning a very long or elaborate vacation such as a world tour or a complex trip with a large group, consider hiring a private investigator to do a background check on the travel agency and make sure everything is on the up and up.
#3 Be vigilant of phishing schemes
Phishing is an attempt to obtain person’s personal information, such as your credit card number, and use it for malicious purposes. Phishing can be done over the phone or over the internet and many people fall victim to it every day. Be aware of the possibility and don’t let yourself fall into a trap. Always be wary of any links or attachments in emails and verify that the URL of any website you visit is correct.
#4 Trust your gut
At the end of the day, if it feels to go to be true, it probably is. If it feels like you’re getting a “steal” of a deal, you might be the one being stolen from. If something feels fishy, back away. If the “agent” is vague, unwilling, or unable to provide credentials, move along. You are under no obligation to give your credit card number or personal information to anyone, no matter how pressured you feel or what sales tactics they use.
Don’t let your vacation be marred by travel scams. Be vigilant and aware, and you’ll be sure to have a relaxing getaway.